Monday, August 23, 2010

Local optometrist produces 'most affordable' supercar

Monday, August 23, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some might call it love at first sight. Others, lust. But David Alan simply refers to it as destiny.

There he stood, three Augusts ago in Pebble Beach, Calif., an optometrist overcome with gearhead glory as he stared into the gray primer of a prototype GT Malan that he had just read about on the flight from Pittsburgh.

"I was surprised to say the least," Dr. Alan said.

And so he stared. And stared. And stared.

"For a couple of hours," he said, laughing. "I took my fair share of pictures, too. But that's when I realized what kind of potential was there."

It was the potential, he thought, to fulfill his dream of building the world's most affordable supercar in Western Pennsylvania.

So on the flight back from the 2007 Italiano Concorso, a festival that celebrates exotic and classical Italian cars, Dr. Alan realized that he wanted to doctor more than eyes.

He wanted to doctor cars.

"It all came together that weekend," he said. "I read about it, never expected to see it, and on the way back, it was just about putting two and two together. It felt right."

Three years and three custom-built cars later, Dr. Alan has seen his idea go fast -- up to 220 mph fast -- and sees its future going faster.

Earlier this month, the 63-year-old optometrist and CEO of Alan Autosports saw the first of his prototype GT Malan cars compete in the Speed Channel's nationally televised "Battle of the Supercars," a show that pits the world's top customizable cars against one another in a series of performance-based tests.

Taped in April at the Inde MotorSports Ranch in Wilcox, Ariz., the race pitted Dr. Alan's first customized car, a black GT Malan with thick orange racing stripes across the hood, against the Gumpert Apollo, a German-produced supercar that's four times the price.

"It was apple pie versus cherry strudel," Dr. Alan said. "Let's just say I'm really proud of how our car did against a car that cost way more."

Dr. Alan's 750-horsepower GT Malan took about a year and $125,000 to build. The Gumpert Apollo tested on "Battle of the Supercars" is a more bank-breaking $500,000.

The first GT Malan went through three builders before landing with Warrendale-based RPM Hot Rods, which also built Dr. Alan's most recent two cars.

For the first model, Mr. Alan bought the necessary infrastructure from a local company, then altered it heavily in many areas. Due to this alteration, the car is branded as its own GT Malan.

Enter a chance exchange with Damian Nunimaker of West Mifflin, a self-employed professional car builder that just happened to stumble upon Dr. Alan's first-born custom at the Beaver Run Carfest in early June, and just happened to be looking for a new opportunity.

So Mr. Nunimaker did some inquiring, to see just whose GT Malan that was, and through a friend found out that the man behind the hundreds of horsepower worked his day job as an optometrist.

An optometrist?

"[My friend] had to tell me that Dr. Alan worked on his glasses," he said.

Mr. Nunimaker then phoned Dr. Alan at his office, and soon after, the 33-year-old's immediate plans for venturing to the hot rod hotbeds of Florida or California were put on hold.

For the past nine years Mr. Nunimaker has worked with custom cars and boasts an extensive performance background, including work with custom fabrication, turbo manifolds and developing parts.

"He has a wonderful background in automotive design and in the general well of car information," Dr. Alan said. "I was looking for some young talent and he had it."

Mr. Nunimaker is Alan Autosports' chief operating officer.

Technically, Alan Autosports was born the day Dr. Alan stepped off of that plane from California, but in many ways the company has been around since his childhood.

"My very first memory in life," he said, "was sitting under my dining room table with a bunch of Matchbox cars. From there, it just went forward."

Likewise, Alan Autosports is moving forward, into a new, 4,000-square foot facility in Masontown, one that will break ground in a couple of weeks and cost about $250,000 -- or roughly the same price range as most of the 10 cars he owns, which include Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches.

There, the quest to build the world's most affordable supercar will continue.

"This is the ultimate in terms of costs," said Mr. Nunimaker, who said that packages start at $100,000. "These machines are tops in the world. We deliver that performance at a cost that's fractionally less than competitors."

The cars are engineered by Boston-area Factory Five Racing, which sells the internal structure before Alan Autosports custom-builds the car to the buyer's exact specifications.

Diamond-studded interior? All right. 1,000-horsepower engine? Fine. Sequential transmission? Done.

"Any kind of paint, horsepower, engine, anything," Mr. Alan said. "That's the beauty of these cars."

He speculates that with the new garage, they will produce four cars during the first year, one a month by the second year, but doesn't foresee building more than 20 a year.

"We have to keep it exclusive," said Mr. Nunimaker. "That's the appeal, the unique value."

And Dr. Alan said he has no plans to quit his day job, even if his souped-up success has come out of nowhere.

"I couldn't imagine this, not in my wildest dreams," he said. "It never crossed my mind, not until three years ago in August."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

From around the world, pinball wizards come to amateur championship in Scott

Saturday, August 14, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There they stood, side-by-side, two pinball players, flipping away.

One was a man, the other a woman, and their approach to the game was as starkly different as the white exterior and colorful interior of the Scott building that is housing the 13th annual Professional Amateur Pinball Association World Championships.

Friday, on the second qualifying day of the this year's tourney, Julie Gray and Paul Jongma had one thing in common: Both were human pinballs.

"This is a great release," said Ms. Gray, after stepping away from the Wheel of Fortune machine. "To come here and see the friends I've met, it's ..."

She was cut off before she could finish.

"Julie. Iron Man!," said a worker, before Ms. Gray replied with, "Gotta go," and scurried off to the Iron Man machine.

Before they started bouncing from machine-to-machine on the red carpet that signifies the 50 tournament machines from the other 375, the two began a series of five games -- at the same time, right next to each other.

She walked up and placed her diet soda at the side. He did the same with a water. She held an upright position and he was crouched. She wore headphones, listening to 1980's hits as she flipped, with a brace on each wrist for her carpal tunnel. He was bobbed and weaved so much his sunglasses fell off.

"There's so many pins, so little time," said Mr. Jongma, a 31-year-old from Groningen, Netherlands. He could only speak for a second, between games of Indianapolis 500 and the more recent Twilight.

The two are among 300 to 400 players from around the world who will be competing for a top prize of $10,000.

The differences between the two speak to the two mindsets that attend the championships each year.

"It's not so much competing as it is the love of playing," said Ms. Gray, 47, of Seattle.

That view contrasts with Mr. Jongma's, who said that after coming across the game in a coffee shop years ago, "I wanted to be the best in the world, no matter what it takes."

He is ranked 13th in the world. To claim the No. 1 spot, he'll have to qualify with enough points for Sunday's final round at 11 a.m. and dethrone two-time defending champion Keith Elwin.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Son of Quecreek Mine survivor killed in ATV crash

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The victim of a fatal all-terrain vehicle accident Sunday afternoon in Somerset County has been identified.

Lucas Popernack, 18, was killed in a crash around 1:30 p.m. in a remote area of Stoney Creek Township. The investigation is ongoing.

Mr. Popernack was a 2010 graduate of Somerset Senior High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society. He was also enrolled for the fall term at IUP.

He was the son of Mark Popernack, one of nine miners rescued from the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County in 2002, according to the Somerset Daily American.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Man accused of vandalizing, defiling Armstrong church

Thursday, August 5, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State police in Kittanning said today they have arrested a man in connection with the July 29 burglary and vandalism at a Cadogan church.

Korey Christopher Daugherty, 21, of Kittanning, is in the Armstrong County Jail on $25,000 bond after being arrested on Wednesday. He is charged with burglary and vandalism of a place of worship.

According to police reports, Mr. Daugherty is accused of causing more than $10,000 worth of damage. He allegedly broke into the Cadogan Union Church and discharged a chemical fire extinguisher throughout the building, plugged two bathroom sinks with the water running, dumped salad dressing on the floor and defecated inside.

"The whole upstairs was destroyed," said church worker Thomas Sedok, who believes Mr. Daugherty was looking for money.

Police said a safe was stolen but didn't believe there was any money inside.

Stanton Heights veteran tells story of World War II war to children at history camp

Thursday, August 5, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Inside the front door of Clarence Gomberg's two-story Stanton Heights home, just past the living room and just underneath a framed shrine of war medals, a white binder stood on a shelf, invisible to a cluttered room of war memorabilia, beer steins and handcrafted clocks.

Its contents were sealed with an inch-thick rubberband and labeled: "My WWII Memories."

The 88-year-old veteran opened that binder recently and unrolled an ancient French road map.

"I can still smell it," he said. "I can still hear it and I can still see it."

Earlier this week, Mr. Gomberg helped a group of children "see it" as a volunteer at this year's World War II History Camp at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.

Inside the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor, the elementary school-aged kids gathered around Mr. Gomberg, his map, his binder, and the rare collection of first-hand war photographs and artifacts.

He was a combat medic in the Army's 28th Division of the 343rd Medical Battalion, one that rode in any of 10 rail cars that carried up to 450 patients as he traveled across a handful of European countries.

"We always ran with no lights on," he told the group. "And never knew if the tracks were in front of us."

Likewise, Mr. Gomberg always carried around his Kodak Brownie camera, "To document those times through picture," he said, but never knew when it would come in handy.

On May 7, 1945, it did.

Mr. Gomberg stood on the second floor of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Reims, France. The Schoolhouse was a vocational training school for boys, one that he said turned out to be as large as Carnegie Mellon University.

A day earlier, with the train en route to Frankfurt, Germany, a sudden stop to pick up eight German soldiers, alive, on stretchers, resulted in one order: Get to Reims, and get there quickly.

"That's all we knew," he said.

A day later, he followed those same German soldiers to the second floor of the schoolhouse, turned around, and with camera in hand, saw U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Britain's Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery sitting side-by-side.

"I took the picture and they chased me out of there," he said of the most striking picture in his album, one that shows the pair staring intently at one another.

Mr. Gomberg's photos include images of French soldiers marching through the Arch of Triumph in Paris, medics treating wounded soldiers in a wooded area and candid shots of the life of an American soldier overseas.

Keepsakes are scattered among the pictures, including a copy of his paybook from an Army promotion and a Western Union telegram to his mother from New York that reads: "Arrived safely. Expect to see you soon. Don't attempt to contact or write me here."

Last year, Mr. Gomberg attended the antiques appraisal show, "Pittsburgh's Hidden Treasures," and learned his photographs could fetch up to $25,000.

Mr. Gomberg spends his time these days visiting elementary schools and Veterans Affairs hospitals to educate youth and relive the past with his acquaintances.

From the back of the hall, Tim Neff, director of education at Sailors & Soldiers, watched as Mr. Gomberg spoke to the children during the weeklong camp.

"We're very thankful for them," Mr. Neff said.

But aside from trying to get his pictures distributed for educational purposes, Mr. Gomberg said he has no plans to take his hands off the past.

"I don't think the money really means anything to me," he said. "What's more important is the memories."

And in Mr. Gomberg's case, passing those memories along to another generation.

CORRECTION: This version corrects the date Mr. Gomberg took a photo of Gen. Eisenhower.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Safety net both saves and injures worker on Donora-Monessen Bridge

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rick Glover wanted a drink of water.

After falling Monday afternoon from anywhere between 50 to 100 feet off the Donora-Monessen bridge in Rostraver, the 48-year-old construction worker was conscious, alert and talking when Mon Valley EMS arrived.

"He was thirsty and didn't have a whole lot to say other than he wanted a drink of water," rescue technician Paul Buchko said. "And he was complaining about the pain."

That pain resulted from falling off a support structure on the underside of the bridge, where he was sandblasting steel girders for painting, and into a safety net tens of feet above the Monongahela River.

Mr. Glover was in Allegheny General Hospital's intensive care unit Tuesday morning with several broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, punctured lung and fractured scapula.

"The net saved his life," said Mon Valley paramedic Sean Cummings, adding that the net is also what caused the injuries.

"He took a big tumble. The force and velocity of him falling and sliding down, that's how he sustained the rib injuries."

Mr. Cummings descended down a ladder to a small catwalk, where he walked over I-beams and fastened into a metal decking before sliding down a tarp to reach Mr. Glover. There, he was able to establish an IV line and inject Mr. Glover with pain medication.

"This was what we call a technical rescue," Mr. Cummings said.

As he assisted Mr. Glover, crews lowered a rescue basket, to which Mr. Cummings secured Mr. Glover before being lowered to the shore, taken up a hillside, driven to the Monessen boat launch and ultimately flown by helicopter to the hospital around 6:30 p.m.

Randy Margarcelli, deputy chief of Mon Valley EMS, said the emergency call came at 4:24 p.m. and that rescue workers were on the scene within 15 minutes.

Both EMTs said Mr. Glover could not explain what happened with the fall.

"It's not an everyday thing," Mr. Buchko said. He estimated the fall at greater than 50 feet.

Mr. Glover, of Dilliner, works for J.F. Shea Construction, a California-based company with an office in Donora, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Worker recovering after fall from bridge

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rostraver police today identified a man who fell from a support structure on the Donora-Monessen Bridge Monday afternoon.

Rick Glover, 48, is in the intensive care unit at Allegheny General Hospital, having suffered several broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, punctured lung and fractured scapula. Initial reports indicated he fell into a net suspended under the bridge.

After crews were called around 4:30 p.m., Mr. Glover was rescued around 5:20, treated by Mon Valley EMS and flown to AGH.

Rostraver Lt. John Christiner said Mr. Glover is believed to be from the Point Marion area and that he heard the man's fall was around 50 feet.